Kam Kok Fung’s barbecue odyssey began in his hometown of Kuantan, Pahang when he started barbecuing meat in his spacious home garden. A seasoned restaurateur in Kuantan, with three F&B ventures under his belt, Kam soon realised there was a market for Texas-style barbecue – it just wasn’t in Kuantan.
“I saw a bigger market in KL. But generally, I feel that in Malaysia, there are not many restaurants that are doing this, so I thought there was a very big opportunity,” he says.
A few months ago, Kam opened Burnin’ Pit in the busy area of Desa Sri Hartamas, after months of research that involved trawling through YouTube, cookbooks and eventually – practical experimentation.
“The first weeks of R&D, we had to eat the meat every day, whether it was good or bad and you do get a bit sick of it. So if you don’t have the passion to do this, my God, it’s difficult. Even now, I still eat a bit of the meat every day to make sure it’s okay,” he says.
Interestingly, although Kam’s restaurant is based on Texas-style barbecue, he added a lot of local elements into the menu. This strategic move was planned, as Kam didn’t want to directly compete with his American counterparts.
“I don’t want it to be too authentic, because we can’t compete with the Texans. But when it comes to localisation, we might stand a chance to be better and different,” says Kam, who ironically has never been to Texas although he is planning a trip there later this year.
The interior of Burnin’ Pit was designed by one of the restaurant’s partners, Dion Vercoe of the famed award-winning Malaysian interior design agency Palladio Interiors.
The eatery has great visual appeal, with large windows allowing sunlight to filter in and high ceilings creating the idea of unbridled space. In nooks and corner, logs are piled on top of each other, lending a rustic appeal. The large open kitchen also offers unfettered access to what’s going on behind the scenes.
One of the annoying things about going to a barbecue restaurant is the fact that the smoky aromas – so intoxicating to the palate – don’t have quite the same appeal when they permeate and linger on your clothes and in your hair. But at Burnin’ Pit, this is a non-issue as the large smoker has actually been cleverly positioned outside the restaurant.
Kam’s mammoth smoker is totally Malaysian-made as a friend of his designed it according to his specifications. One of the benefits of a smoker is that cooking is done low and slow, using smoke to elicit flavours and tenderise meat. Kam’s smoker is fired up first with charcoal before Malaysian rubberwood and wood from fruit trees like rambutan, durian and jackfruit are used to ehance the flavours of the meat.
At Burnin’ Pit, one of the highlighted cuts is beef brisket, which traditionally needs to be cooked properly in order to tenderise. Because Kam is dedicated to getting things right, he and his team work overnight to get results.
“Every day, from 3pm, we do our dry-rub with kosher salt and coarse pepper. After that, we start putting all the meats in the smoker from 8pm to 9pm. You have to be really patient and take the meat out when it hits the right temperature, otherwise the brisket will be very rubbery. Most of the meats will only come out of the smoker the next day at 10am or 11am,” he says.
Because the process takes so long, Kam says he didn’t get to sleep much at the beginning, and had to take turns having naps with his staff.
But all that hard work is so worth it, because the brisket (RM20 for 100gm) is spectacularly good, something you will already intuite when Kam slices through the meat and juices run out. But the true test is in the tasting, and you’ll discover a magical moment when expectation and reality align in the form of meat that is unfailingly tender and oh-so-juicy. You also have the option of chosing which part of the brisket you would like – the flat has more meat and the point has more fat.
The eatery’s beef ribs (RM35gm for 100gm) are also must-tries on the menu. The glossy glazed skin of the ribs can easily be pried apart to reveal meltingly tender meat inside, in what proves to be a beautifully symphonic amalgamation of silken textures and smoky flavours.
Another highlight on the menu is the barbecue chicken (RM28 for a quarter chicken). The dish pays homage to the Caribbean jerk chicken, with the notable omission of Scotch bonnet chillies. The chicken is brimming with understated smoky flavours and has a lovely char on the outside and velvety soft chicken flesh inside.
The pulled lamb (RM22 for 100gm) is another worthy contender for your affections, boasting a delightful satin-like texture that offers immsense pleasure.
One of the best things about eating the meat at Burnin’ Pit is that you can slather it in the eatery’s homemade barbecue sauces. One such sauce is the Gula Melaka, which is made with a beef bone marrow broth enhanced with vegetables, chilli paste, gula Melaka and scraps of cutaway barbecued meat to enhance the smoky flavours. The result is a rich sauce with an underlying sweetness and just a hint of heat – a perfect accoutrement to the natural flavours of the meat.
Burnin’ Pit also offers a host of side dishes designed to complement the barbecued meat. Of these, the Mac & Cheese (RM7.90) is a stand-out. Made with three cheeses and topped with nacho bits, the concoction is suitably cheesy and designed to extract oohs and aahs of delight.
The nachos (RM28) meanwhile, feature tortilla chips topped with shredded barbecued chicken, tomato salsa, pickled chillies, pickled onions and percik sauce. Although the percik sounds like the odd duck in this marriage of flavours, it actually proves to be a delectable addition that elevates the meal. The only downside is you’re likely to want more as there simply isn’t enough sauce for the pile of chips on offer.
For those after a sample of something closer to home, try the brisket fried rice (RM22), a solid rendition of fried rice with smoky scraps of brisket that fit in snugly like the missing pieces of a puzzle. It probably isn’t the best fried rice you’re ever going to have, but it’s pretty good, especially when combined with the potent sambal belacan on the side.
For dessert, have a go at the beignets (RM12) which are essentially deep-fried fritters with powdered sugar. The little flour pockets are airy and light, but also very, very filling so order a plate to share.
Burnin’ Pit has been immensely popular since it opened, so pre-orders are recommended especially on weekends as Kam says meat tends to run out by 7.30pm on Saturdays. Seasonally, the eatery also offers a much coveted wagyu brisket that Kam was instrumental in introducing.
“The Japanese wagyu brisket is amazing! It’s a secondary cut that no one wanted but when a supplier offered it to me, I took all 400kg of what he had and it was a huge hit in the restaurant. Since then, other eateries have started looking for it,” he says.
For Kam, the success of the restaurant has cemented the idea of opening more outlets in Malaysia and beyond.
“There is still a bit of teething problems on service and all that, so we’re still trying to improve. But when it stabilises, we are looking at expanding to Ampang and Penang. And my partners are looking at expanding to Singapore and Jakarta,” he says.
24 Jalan 24/70a
Desa Sri Hartamas
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 012 222 2042
Open Sunday to Thursday: 12pm to 1am; Friday to Saturday: 12pm to 2am